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Partnership with black colleges launches new projects

By Catherine Doss

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 34 - July 2, 1998

Virginia Tech's partnership with historically black colleges and universities (HBCU's) has launched a number of new projects during its first official year of operation.
"We're off and running," said Pat Hyer, associate provost. "Enthusiasm and participation in this unique concept has been very gratifying."
The effort to form a linkage between Virginia Tech and its historically black sister institutions began last fall when representatives from 11 HBCU's were invited to campus to share ideas on how they and the university could benefit from each other. Five of the HBCU partners are in Virginia, three in North Carolina, and one each in West Virginia, Delaware, and Maryland.
"We all have a lot to gain from one another," said Provost Peggy S. Meszaros, whose office funded the initial visit and continues to support on-going efforts that resulted from it. "In particular, many historically black colleges have created an environment in which African-American students are well-nurtured and succeed academically. We need to learn more about how to do this well at Virginia Tech."
Some of the major initiatives this year have included: grants to increase minority representation in math and chemistry; a major grant to host a summer workshop to help outstanding students at HBCU schools compete for scholarships and admission into top graduate schools; and an initiative that shares instructional technology between schools. Other programs, such as the university's summer minority-internship program and minority-recruiting weekend, were enhanced through the HBCU connection.
Increasing minority interest in graduate education is a common goal among several of the HBCU initiatives. For example, the Department of Mathematics recently received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help increase the number of minority students pursuing doctoral degrees in math.
The project, funded through a GANN grant (Grants in Areas of National Need), links Virginia Tech with Virginia State University to provide tuition fellowships for 45 students over a three-year period. Under the program, which gets under way this fall, students spend two years getting a master's degree in education from Virginia State, taking at least one on-line course from Virginia Tech during that period. During the third year, the student transfers to Virginia Tech for a master's in science, eventually pursuing a doctorate in mathematics over the final three years.
"The number of minority members seeking doctorates in mathematics nationally is dismal," said Bob Olin, department head. "We want to help turn those numbers around. The great thing about this project is that even if a student doesn't complete the entire six years of study, he or she is still walking away with an advanced degree in mathematics at any stage in the game."
A similar project between Hampton University and four doctoral institutions (Virginia Tech, the University of Rochester, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology), encourages minority enrollment in advanced studies in chemistry. Funded through a National Science Foundation grant, six minority students will be admitted each year to Hampton University to pursue a master's degree in chemistry. Upon completion, they will transfer to one of the other four schools for doctoral work. Initially, the program is for a three-year cycle. Program directors expect it will produce 18 minority Ph.D. graduates in chemistry within five to 10 years.
In another project, Virginia Tech, Virginia State, Howard University, and Hampton University have received a $50,000 grant from the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Program and the DuPont Corporation to help prepare outstanding students to compete successfully for major scholarships and admission to top graduate schools. This project, titled "Emerging Leader's Workshop," will bring together two rising juniors and one faculty member from HBCU's across the country for a four-day conference at the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center this summer.
"This is a unique endeavor," said Jack Dudley, director of Virginia Tech's Honors Program and one of the project coordinators. "There's not another project like this one anywhere that I know of. Truman and DuPont are both very enthusiastic about the project."
During the conference, approximately 60 participants, representing 20 HBCU's, will work in small groups with past national Truman- and Rhodes-scholarship winners and DuPont executives to learn about the competitive scholarship process, determine what skills they need to compete most successfully, and to evaluate and organize their college records. The group will also spend a day at Virginia Tech meeting with faculty members and other scholars.
Truman is one of the most prestigious national scholarship competitions in the country, awarding $30,000 scholarships to 80 students each year who are pursuing an education and career in public service.
Technology is another area of interest among Virginia Tech and many of its HBCU partners. The Virtual Institute for Technology Advancement in Education (VITAE) project grew out this mutual interest.
VITAE is a collaboration of 13 institutions (including Virginia Tech) from five east-coast states to address the issues raised by instructional technology--both the advantages and challenges--and to help integrate technology into curriculums at other colleges and universities. Part of VITAE is solid, practical advice and information on selecting hardware, negotiating discounts with computer companies, developing protocols for technology change and improvements, and obtaining software licenses.
Equally important is the project's commitment to preserving cultural and educational diversity and exploring ways in which technology can help partner institutions build on and share strengths.
"What we at Virginia Tech have to share is expertise and experience in the acquisition of technology, the preparation of the faculty to use it, and the development of curricula and activities that take full advantage of what these new teaching and learning media have to offer," said Tom Sherman, a Tech Education faculty member who, with colleagues Joyce Williams-Green, former director of Black Studies, and Glen Holmes, instructional technology, established the project. "What we get in return," Sherman said, "is access to areas of expertise and intellectual and cultural resources we haven't had in the past. It is a collaboration that will make everyone stronger."
Two other established projects received a significant boost this year from Virginia Tech's involvement in the HBCU initiative. One was the university's summer internship program for under-represented college students. Now in its sixth year, this project brings undergraduates from around the country to Virginia Tech for a 10-week summer-research internship working 40-50 hours each week engaged in research projects across campus.
The program targets minority, low-income, and first-generation college students, and this year, a special effort was made to recruit from Tech's HBCU partner schools. This summer, 24 students representing 17 universities will work on research projects in five colleges. The project receives support from the Provost's Office, individual colleges and Research and Graduate Studies.
"Each college at Virginia Tech is looking to develop a more diverse student base," said Larry Moore, co-director of the project. "Tech benefits by exposing these students to the university with the possibility that they may further their education here. The students benefit by getting tremendous research experience."
Finally, a graduate minority student preview weekend, held last spring, attracted the highest number of participants in the event's history. Nearly 50 participants visited Virginia Tech for three days of programs and activities designed to acquaint them with the university and enable them to network with other minority students and faculty members. The group included students who have been accepted into a graduate program at Tech starting in the fall as well as undergraduates from regional colleges and HBCU partner schools. This annual event is sponsored by the Black Graduate Student Organization, the Provost's Office and Research and Graduate Studies.
"Our goal when we initiated the HBCU project back in the fall was to plant the seeds for future collaborative efforts," Meszaros said. "After almost a year, it's exciting to see how HBCU initiatives are flourishing across the university. The long-term effects of this project will benefit all of the partner institutions for many years to come."